Vampire Survivors Early Access Review

EDITORS' RATING: 9/10
Pros
  • Simple yet addictive gameplay
  • Great pixel graphics with an 8-bit feel
  • Successfully turns the bullet hell genre on its head
  • $3 is a bargain for everything you get
Cons
  • Could benefit from a larger variety of music

If you're a PC gamer or a regular Twitch user, there's at least a decent chance you've heard of Vampire Survivors by now. Over the past couple of weeks, the early access indie game has been enjoying a steady rise in popularity thanks to various Twitch streamers, its simplistic gameplay, and its minuscule $3 price tag. After hearing about the game from a couple of friends and seeing a few of my favorite Twitch streamers play it, I picked up the title on Friday and promptly lost large chunks of my weekend to this surprisingly addictive game.

Note: This review is based on an early access build of Vampire Survivors from February 1st, 2022. If you're reading this long after that date, there's a good chance the game has undergone substantial changes that may render this review either partially or wholly irrelevant. The author personally purchased Vampire Survivors for this review.

It's funny, because Vampire Survivors has all the makings of a game you'd pass over when browsing through Steam. It has simplistic graphics and a low price that, together, basically scream "low-budget shovelware." It's a prime example of the old adage, "Never judge a book by its cover," because it would be a grave mistake to skip Vampire Survivors based on its screenshots and price.

I'm not going to act like Vampire Survivors is the best game ever, but it's a ton of fun. As the trailer suggests, Vampire Survivors has roots in the bullet hell genre, but it swaps the dynamic. Rather than being the ones who need to dodge a screen full of bullets, players have to clear screens full of enemies that slowly swarm them from all angles.

As you destroy enemies, you level up and can select new auto-firing weapons or accessories that improve certain metrics like damage or movement speed, though you can also upgrade the weapons and items you already have. Eventually, you'll be shooting off six different super-powered weapons and clearing hundreds of enemies at a time.

As all of this plays out, you simply move around the field to collect items that drop from light sources (a callback to Castlevania, along with many of the weapons) and experience gems that drop from enemies. Accessories give passive increases to your stats and every weapon in the game auto-fires on a specific cooldown. You can move using a mouse or by using the WASD keys, but that's all you need to do. In that sense, it's a casual game – anyone can play it, and it doesn't take very long to learn.

However, there is some depth when it comes to characters and builds. Vampire Survivors lets you play as a variety of characters, most of which you'll have to unlock as you play. Each character has a certain perk, as well. For instance, one might get a boost to the area of effect size while another gets an extra projectile as a baseline bonus, so you'll determine which weapons and accessories to chase based on the character you're playing. At least, that's the way it would work in an ideal world, but every time you level up, you're forced to select from a random list of upgrades, and sometimes you don't get the upgrades you're looking for.

In light of that, and though Vampire Survivors is a simple game, you have to put some thought into it if you want to successfully complete runs. As you play, you'll earn gold that can be spent between rounds, either on new characters or on upgrades that apply to every character and persist between runs. That's where Vampire Survivors' roguelike roots start to show, as you always feel like you're working toward something even when you can't seem to get a good run going.

Like any casual game that has found broad appeal – be it Flappy Bird, Candy Crush, Among Us, or even Wordle in some regards – Vampire Survivors succeeds because it's easy to pick up and learn but not necessarily easy to win. Even though the only thing you need to do is move and determine your build as you level up, Vampire Survivors is not an easy game. If you want to complete a stage, you'll need to survive a full 30 minutes, which obviously gets more difficult as you get deeper into a run. By the end, enemies will completely fill the screen and surround you, leaving you only with the hope that your build can pump out enough damage to keep you safe.

I don't expect Vampire Survivors will be a long-burn type of game for most people. Instead, I think most people will get their fill after around 15 hours of gameplay. Of course, if you're determined to unlock every achievement, buy every upgrade, or beat the game with every character, you'll be playing quite a bit longer than that, but for most people, this is going to be a breezy affair. Vampire Survivors will suck up all your free time for a few days, but then you'll likely put it down and move on to the next thing.

Since it's priced at $3, that's entirely okay with me. I can already feel that I'm nearing the end of my time with the game for now – I only have two more achievements to unlock and that'll be enough to get me to move on – but I will most certainly be back. Poncle, the game's developer, says the title should be in early access for around a year, and there's plenty more content on the way to release. In the full game, we're told to expect "more characters, stages, weapons, and RPG elements, and new major features like Story mode and Arcanas."

That has me excited for sure, and I can't wait to see how Vampire Survivors evolves over the course of the next year. Poncle also says the price is going up as more content is added, so I suggest getting in on the ground floor and picking it up now for $3, as the content that's already there more than justifies the price tag. I'm not usually one to recommend early access games – especially those closer to the beginning of their early access journey than the end – but at three bucks, Vampire Survivors is an outright steal.